Teaching Philosophy Statement
Whether in classroom teaching or advising, I find the most valuable moments come when students or I come to perceive things differently than before. The study of music presents a special opportunity for such transformation, because the medium often invites interpretation in a framework of sociability. It serves as a relatively non-threatening manner to convene discussions of difficult subjects in history.
Over the last years of political upheaval—with immigration and race as lightning rods—many of my students share an intimate stake in public debates on citizenship and belonging. Many students have expressed intense feelings of unsettlement because of the fragmentation of a web-based media environment that distorts public debate. In the classroom, I seek to address this fragmentation to restore a shared sense of reality and responsibility in our civic life. My most recent teaching (Music-UA 188 “Music and Sound Archives”) has turned to NYU’s Special Collections, with their unique focus on immigration history, labor movements, and the arts in downtown Manhattan from the last two centuries. I have often marveled at students’ expressions of exhilaration when they answer their own research questions by digging up historical recordings and documents in Special Collections that had previously intimidated them. The archive empowers students while helping to ground them in a shared sense of reality. It shows how forgotten facts can be recovered, just as the archive’s testimony to prior moments of ingenuity or courage may model future action.
In order to interpret challenging historical situations, I also encourage students to respond to challenging musical experiences. In courses like “Music and Intermedia” (Music- and “Music in Cold War New York” (Core 730) I regularly teach a unit on the Eighth Street Artists’ Club, which features post-tonal listening assignments that jar with students’ familiar sound-worlds. Yet I juxtapose these unfamiliar musics with Abstract Expressionist visual art, which provides a more accessible “entry point” for students at a loss for words to describe bewildering music. This exercise helps students (1) to become self-aware in their sense of mystification at radically unfamiliar forms of expression; and (2) to develop specific vocabularies to communicate their aesthetic experiences. By the end of these courses, students learn to channel their interpretations into effective performances. Several of my classes have staged versions of Yoko Ono’s anti-war “opera” AOS-for David Tudor (1961)— which involves a choreographed reading of foreign-language newspapers, amplified electronic sounds, performers wrapping one another in gauze, and screaming— with great enthusiasm. Some students expressed surprise at having found their “voice” in performance with others—an outcome in keeping with my goal to empower students as thoughtful citizens.
The latter goal also guides my support for undergraduates’ independent research as advisor and DUS. I have advised two undergraduate honors projects and an independent study on the subjects of French music of high imperialism; video game music and violence; and 1960s electronic music. Two former advisees are enrolled in competitive graduate programs at University of Amsterdam and King’s College, London, and we remain in regular contact.